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Saturday, April 10, 2010

What makes a good annotated bibliography?

If you're looking for, i've basically moved it here. I wanted to try something different for a while.

Currently, am working on an annotated bibliography this quarter (MPA program). This is what i came up with about what should make a good annotated bibliography:

Here, in my judgment and based on my readings, here is what i think makes criteria for a good annotated bibliography.

Goal and purpose of an Annotated Bibliography
The general goal of an annotated bibliography is to collect, evaluate and categorize informative sources on a topic of study and for a particular audience. It should tell the reader what information is in the source (the work cited), how it fits in the context of the research question and often a brief evaluation.

The finished product should prove valuable to researchers, students, and in even for people in everyday life. In research studies, good annotated bibliographies help save literature review time because the relevant sources that fit a research question have already been chosen and evaluated. In academic study, they can provide a filtered set of readings pertaining to a topic. And in everyday life, they can be roadmaps for learning. Lastly, annotated bibliographies remain superior to Google searches for initial research because the content is not only filtered for the research context but for quality of the source. It can be seen as an exercise in reduction, increasing the fidelity on resources that should prove to be relevant to a research question

Details of Annotated Bibliography
The size of an annotated bibliography depends on the scope of the topic or research question being addressed. For example, some are book length such as The Bibliography of Native American Bibliographies at 216 pages. Various less lengthy examples can be found in the scholarly, peer-reviewed literature such as Fulk’s two part The Spanish of Mexico: A Partially Annotated Bibliography for 1970-90. Or Mooij & de Vos’ The Policy Processes: An Annotated Bibliography on Policy Processes, with Particular Emphasis on India at about 61 pages. A particularly brief example is With Harp and Voice:An Annotated Bibliography of Harp/Choral Works about 15 pages. Finally, the time planned for the effort, the intended audience, and other things such as scope of the bibliography, are also determining factors of size and level of detail.

Format: Most examples have one of the academic citation formats such as the APA, MLA or Chicago Style. The order of the citations are should appeal to the needs of the audience –some are strictly alphabetic, others are chronological, still others can be broken down in to broad categories.

Annotations: Some authors include multiple classifications or keywords at the end of their annotations while others do not. The length of annotations can vary from about 150 to 250 words, or three to six sentences (while others can be far longer and detailed). Harner (2000) explained that annotations can be either in the nature of paraphrase or a commentary. By paraphrase Harner meant it to be a representation of the original, a kind of dispassionate what-it-is description of the resource whereas a commentary is more of a what-it-is-about treatment. Harner advises sticking with one style or the other but some examples have a combination of both paraphrase and commentary

What is a good model to follow?
A brief survey of annotated bibliographies from a variety of topics yielded an example that should make a suitable model for the annotated bibliography Unemployment and Older Americans. Jos Mooij and Veronica de Vos’ working paper from 2003, prepared for a British think thank the Overseas Development Institute (London), was the Policy Processes: An Annotated Bibliography on Policy Process with Particular Emphasis on India. The work goes on for about 65 pages. The bibliographers stated at the very beginning their objective and their intended audience, which was not always the case in other examples. Each entry had a standard format (MLA) along with a line item for keywords, which are compiled into an index at the end of the work.

An example entry follows:

“7. Dye, Thomas R. (2001)
Top Down Policymaking, Chatham House Publishers, New York and London.

K: democracy, interest groups, media, policy élites, politics of policy, power, USA

This book criticises the myth that in a democracy public policy is a response to the demands of the people. In reality, according to the author, policy is made from the top down. The author develops a top-down policy-making model, in which he distinguishes four different processes… . The book investigates how these four processes operate in the USA.”

(See Mooj, J, & de Vos, V. (2003) citation below).

Mooij and de Vos’ work serves as a good model because it has a clear scooping statement and intended audience. It appeared to have a manageable scope and met those objectives. The authors appeared committed to their initial scope while freely admitting the challenge of deciding on what to include and exclude.

Is there a general set of measures to use to judge what makes a good annotated bibliography? Based upon a very brief survey of annotated bibliographies the following attribute checklist could be used to judge a finished work:

1. Did the bibliography itself have a statement of its intent and purpose? Did it meet that purpose?
2. Did the bibliography indicate an intended audience?
3. Did the bibliography have a stated scope and was that managed?
4. Could the annotations help a reader understand the purpose of each cited work?


Bibliography of Native American bibliographies. (2006). Am Indian Cult Res J, 30(4).

Fulk, R.C. (1993). The Spanish of mexico: a partially annotated bibliography
for 1970-90 part ii. Hispania, 76(3), 446-468.

Fulk, R.C. (1993). The Spanish of mexico: a partially annotated bibliography
for 1970-90 part i. Hispania, 76(3), 245-270.

Mooj, J, & de Vos, V. (2003). [Working paper] An Annotated bibliography on policy processes, with particular emphasis on india. Overseas Development Institute,Retrieved from 2010/04//02.

John, J & Emily. With Harp and Voice:An Annotated Bibliography of Harp/Choral Works. Choral Journal. August 2009

Harner, J.L. (2000). On compiling an annotated bibliography. New York, NY: The Modern Language Association of America.